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Judge blocks key witness from testifying again in Kate Steinle murder trial

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Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez speaks outside the courtroom on Oct. 23. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The San Francisco judge overseeing the Kate Steinle murder trial prevented the prosecution’s key witness from returning to the stand Monday before defense attorneys could question his credibility in front of the jury.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia was expected to call retired police Inspector John Evans back to the stand as a rebuttal witness after both the prosecution and defense rested their cases earlier this month in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant accused of shooting Steinle on Pier 14 on July 1, 2015.

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Evans is the only witness who testified that Steinle’s shooter aimed a handgun in her direction and pulled the trigger, supporting the prosecution’s theory that the shooting was intentional. The defense claims that the shooting was an accident.

What Evans would have said in court Monday is not known, but defense attorneys say that San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel K. Feng determined the testimony was improper for rebuttal. Prosecutors can call rebuttal witnesses to refute evidence previously presented in a trial.

If Evans had taken the stand, defense attorney Matt Gonzalez planned to raise issues about his credibility.

“He testified that the only reasonable interpretation of the evidence was this theory of guilt, and that’s just not credible,” Gonzalez said. “No other expert will say that. That’s why they called him. Because he’s available to give the testimony that they need. We think a jury will see through it.”

Evans is a defendant in a federal civil lawsuit alleging that police misconduct led to a wrongful murder conviction, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

Evans is accused of making inaccurate statements under oath about where shell casings land during the 2015 retrial of Jamal Trulove for a 2007 homicide. Trulove was acquitted of murder.

On Monday, defense attorneys planned to call to the stand James Norris, the former head of the San Francisco police crime lab who previously offered contradictory testimony to Evans, and Ronan Shouldice, a police inspector who said in the federal lawsuit that Evans made “inaccurate” statements.

Norris said outside the courtroom that Evans should not have testified in the Steinle case that the bullet traveled in a straight line when it ricocheted.

“That type of testimony shouldn’t be given,” Norris said. “There are appropriate people in San Francisco who can testify about these things. The medical examiner, some of the people in the crime laboratory. They all know this.”

This is the second time that Norris and Evans have been at odds in a court case. Norris is also an expert in the Trulove lawsuit.

Though the defense could not question Evans’ credibility as a rebuttal witness, Gonzalez could still ask the judge to strike his testimony about the ricochet because Garcia did not tell them about the Trulove lawsuit.

Prosecutors are required to share evidence with the defense that could help the defendant in a trial. The defense learned about the Trulove lawsuit from Norris after the trial started, according to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said the defense has yet to decide whether to ask the judge to strike the testimony because of the alleged Brady violation.

“I think it does jeopardize a trial when there is this kind of evidence out there,” Gonzalez said.

A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Nov. 20 in the murder trial.

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